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APR/MAY 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST COAST

Beer And Loathing In Berkeley
By Peter "Grizz Bar" Sheppard

I awoke in a strange place to the sounds of my brother sawing petrified logs and an African gray parrot named Shadow that quacked like a duck. A trailer home on the edge of oblivion somewhere in San Jose, Calif., called "Coyote Creek." The last 72 hours seemed like a blur to me now, but the new coffee maker I had bought for my band mate, Skip, helped to clear the clinging hangover fog.

After my eighth cup of steaming goo, it was starting to dawn on me that I had been sent here on a mission. By the time I had plowed through my third Danish, it hit me — there really was no recollection of where I had been — a quick check of my shakily scribbled notes revealed the horror: I really shouldn't try to write after drinking that much beer in one sitting. The following story is true; the names have been changed to protect the insolent.

Was it really three days hence that I found myself in a mid-sized Japanese four-door hydroplaning through the eight inches of mad rain screaming down from the heavens with two of my brews band brethren? My brother, Ranger Joe, was seated beside me manning the CD player, packing for bear with a full thermos of coffee and 90 CDs of late-60s Devil music.

Our other traveling companion, The Deacon, keyboardist in the band, was in the back seat mentally composing some demonic new symphony in his head that featured seven trombones and a piccolo tuba — the demented blaggard! We were here to drink. We were here to play. We were going to the Homebrew Club of the Year party at Anchor Brewing in San Francisco and BEERAPALOOZA in Berzerkely. It's a goddamned dirty job, but somebody's got to do it! And, we were ready.

Stopping just long enough to gather our thoughts and gear up in San Jose with our third horn player, Hilton "Skip" Graef, we continued on to our first destination. Anchor Brewing sits atop Potrero Hill in San Francisco, looming over a wooden church across the street. The smell of burning cow flesh filled the air like some offering to Ninkasa, goddess of the brew. After a quick band setup with the help of Brian "Vessal" Vessa, we were ready to do damage to the taproom bar. Our cherubic guide to the taps dressed in a gleaming white Anchor Brewing jumpsuit asked that age-old question, "What'll it be, then?"

I was looking forward to the three breweries we would visit on this bloodshot morning: Bear Republic, Russian River and Lagunitas — the holy trinity.

Yes, it is true, I have done the grape, sampled many a tab of controlled substance, and dabbled in the usual suspects of uppers, downers, side sliders and levitators; snorked many a gym sock of Energene fluid in my day. But nothing — not even that weird ball of black sticky substance I purchased off a strange and grubby Turkish kefir that kept repeating the words, "Turkah, turkah, turkah …" in the Frankfurt Hauptwache — could even come close to what I had in my glass right this second. Anchor Porter … ON TAP … right there in the brewery!

Over two kegs of that heady brew was demolished by that band of brewing brothers and sisters that fateful day. Not to mention copious quantities of Liberty Ale, Anchor Steam, Wheat Beer, Small Beer and what was waiting for us like some shill in a darkened alley — pitchers of Old Foghorn dancing on our heads!

And let's not forget about the food — THE FOOD! The Sultan of Brunei couldn't have put on a better spread! BEEF! It's what's for dinner! Vegans be damned! The server took one look at the glazed expression on my face, that dribble of drool forming on my lips, and piled my plate high with the dead cow. The most perfectly cooked beef — even Martha Stewart would be salivating — a personal fantasy of mine — but more on that later! With my brother right behind me, we sauntered off to find a seat.

And the band? Well, what can I say about the band that hasn't already been said? Deranged mob? YES! Drunken chorus? Oh, hell yes! Lovemakers and Heartbreakers? Where do I sign up? We brought the music to the masses — two scintillating sets of hard-driving, full-tilt boogie, rhythm and brews to die for!

And then, like the flash of a paparazzo's camera, it was all over. "I ain't sayin' you gotta go home, but you can't stay here," bellowed the barman. Not to fret — we had ulterior motives afoot. A quick dash up the hill to the Rogue Ales Public House for the Falcons Night celebration. Pints and quarts of their very best were slogged with wild, Dionysian abandon; three drunken choruses of "Inna Godda Davita"; some really bad table dancing; a rowdy "mash pit" in front of the jukebox, all culminating with us rolling Gregor down the Lombard Street hill. Just a very typical night out for the Falcons, but was I really there?

I awoke the next day with the entire London Symphony Orchestra performing the 1812 Overture replete with smooth bore Napoleonic cannons pointing directly at the brain stem in my head. Massive transfusions of hot, steaming black coffee were administered, and I was human again. After a few hundred more Danishes, I was awake. It is truly amazing, the life-giving powers that fat, sugar and caffeine can impart!

Now, what was it I was going to do this morning? THE BUS TRIP! Sweet Weepin' Jesus, anything but the bus trip. I was looking forward to the three breweries we would visit on this bloodshot morning: Bear Republic, Russian River and Lagunitas — the holy trinity. But the son-of-a-brewer bus driver ditched me somewhere outside of San Leandro when I insisted he make an unscheduled potty stop to evacuate my enlarged bladder. You will have to talk to someone else to get the scoop on the bus trip. For once, I wasn't there.

I beat a hasty retreat to the next brewery on our two-day junket: Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley, in an industrial section of town. A jewel in the crown, my friends! These guys know how to throw a party. There was the distinct odor of burnt cow flesh commingling with hops and malts. I was home. With The Deacon, Ranger Joe and Skip, we surmised the situation. Big stage, great sound system, mixing board for the monitors and a full-up sound stage — I think I'm in heaven!

The house will rock tonight! A big drafty warehouse greets us with a horseshoe-shaped table arrangement of the local breweries dispensing their craft and more food to die for. As for that veggie sandwich, hey, vegetarians never tasted better! After we had the fest bands wrapped around our heads and the biodegradable tasting glass shoved into our maws, we were ready. Great Googly Moogly, as Frank would say. Too much good beer to make the Angels weep. Trumer Pils is truly a nectar of the Gods.

The first band came on and got the crowd rowdy. Hot licks and fingertips is what they craved! By the time the Falcons Brews Band hit the stage, the beer endorphins kicked in! I vaguely remember seeing a psychedelic saffron throng shakin' it to the sounds blasting from the huge speakers. The Falcons Band was in truly rare form this night, with a genuine "take no prisoners" attitude. Now listen up, baby, and stop actin' so damn crazy! Each act that followed seemed to get better and better until we didn't care who won the Battle of the Brewery Bands — we were just happy to be here! The Sierra Nevada band for the bumps, the Rolling Boil Blues Band for the grinds, and the Anchor Hysters featuring the Foghorn's horn section for everything else to cause the house to rattle and hum!

Work is truly the scourge of the drinking class! Somewhere amongst the drunken prattle, our enterprising drummer, Brian, now called "The Brain," produced three bottles of Hair of the Dog "Doggie Paws," donated to our cause by the owner of the brewery himself (Alan Sprints), and we drank the dregs of the party. It just doesn't get any better than this!

And then, in the flash of a lightning bolt, it was over! We bade farewell to our brothers up north, and I piloted our conveyance southbound yet again, towards "Sideways" country to sample a bit of the spoiled grape juice — but that, my friends, is yet another story! I close with the fabled phrase of the yet-unknown Blue Luft, "Have Fun! We Did!" Ciao and goodnight, Dr. Thompson, wherever you are!

Peter "Grizz Bar" Sheppard is a longtime member of the Maltose Falcons homebrew club in Woodland Hills, Calif., and plays trumpet in the band.

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